Restoring Faith

I attended the Adelaide Showground Farmer’s Market for the first time about one month ago. They restored my faith in the possibility that a better food system is possible.

Having just recently spent two weeks camping on a permaculture farm – eating more or less direst from the garden – it was quite a shock to be forced into more distant food choices that come with living in Mission Beach. Occasionally I’m even forced into a head-shaking Colesworths visit to choose between four different options of ‘own brand’, or reluctantly pick a fake organic product off the shelf. At least there’s a small (proper) organics store in town to provide some sanity.

I was on KI recently and it was reaffirmed that they are not as focused on providing for their own needs as I think they should be. There is a once-a-month farmer’s market which is a bubbling community affair in an idyllic spot. Beyond that, if one wants to buy fresh produce, they must shop at the IGA. Very little in the store is made on KI; and though I (thankfully) haven’t done a full scale audit, I suspect not much is even produced in SA; and there is perhaps quite a high proportion of overseas products. Even products we think of as Australian are unlikely to be so, in today’s globalised marketplace. Follow the money and it is most certainly leaking very heavily off of KI, onto the mainland and flown overseas.

Compare these large supermarkets to the Farmer’s Markets, where the producer who is running the stall keeps all the funds of your purchase for themselves, save the cost of the stall. In the case of fresh produce, they have tended to the plants/trees/product from day 1, so have an intimate knowledge of what they sell you. Try asking a Colesworths employee the best way to keep capsicums fresh, or what a cow ate in the months before it became beef. These – and many others – are important questions, they increase our knowledge and create conversations about one of the few things that links us all together – our food. It’s not many steps between having a detailed discussion about potato growing and caring more about your entire diet, which leads to eating and acting in a healthier way, which leads to seeing the doctor less, which leads to saving money on medical expenses through not living with illness, which leads to being happier because you feel better about yourself. Talking about potatoes to happiness in 5 easy steps. One does not create this environment for one’s self by shopping at Colesworths, where if you even talk to a staffer they’re more likely to be concerned about an upcoming party than helping you.

Not every farmer’s market is weekly and not every one will have a membership card that entitles you to member’s prices (like the Adelaide Showground one), but they all will be a positive experience. Perhaps they will also restore your faith.

Small Habit Change – Find your local Farmer’s Market and go there once every month.


A Complete Waste

One of the Top 5 things I hate is waste. I hate wasting time, although have learnt the importance of relaxing when I used to see that as time wasting. I hate wasting money, giving fees to banks is a lowlight. Wasting lives through war or poverty is usually avoidable. The thing I most hate wasting though is food. Especially when I know I’m lucky enough to have regular access to it.

Food is wasted before it even arrives at the supermarket because we as consumers have demanded ‘perfect’ products – and nature doesn’t always make things look perfect – so the producer uses otherwise healthy food for some purpose other than to feed us, often by simply throwing it in the bin. Like it or not, we have demanded ‘perfect’ products – think back to the last lot of apples you bought, surely there was a choice between ones that looked blemish free and some that had a few spots. Pretty sure you took the blemish free ones, naturally, that’s a reasonable thing to do. Then when the supermarket has 2 boxes of apples left that are a bit old, guess what they look like. So they tell the supplier to not supply those spotty apples.

It is hard to find Australian statistics for fresh food wasted in supermarkets, but if it’s anything like in Sweden (and it probably is), then plenty is lost on the shelves too. Part of the problem is individuals not taking responsibility for their actions, by eating food that has soured and then blaming the supermarket for selling it to them, which has created a need for government regulations. So many supermarkets must throw out food at a certain point, even when it is still edible. There is also the issue as mentioned above about consumers demanding perfection. The cost of all this waste is built into supermarket prices we pay on the shelves, so in effect, we are paying for waste. Now we’re wasting two things – food and money.

By far though, the biggest generator of waste is when we let our eyes do the shopping and end up with too much food in the cupboards. Here are some recent stats on Australian food waste and tips for avoiding it; and a great concept I found trying to bridge food waste and hunger. Personally, I try to use everything in the fridge and pantry – experimenting with new dishes etc, and I would almost prefer to eat meat than see it thrown out. I also try to only buy for the next few days rather than a whole week or two, living in Sweden helps in that regard because of the tendency for apartment living means smaller storage space. Shopping locally also helps with only buying our immediate needs, when I walk to the shops I’m limited to how much I can carry in my backpack.

Waste from the paddock and the supermarket shelves are big societal problems, and cannot be fixed just by my actions, but not wasting food at home is easy. Cecilia just threatens to throw something out and I leap to it’s rescue….that occasionally happens, but more often we just make sure we make something out of the older items, and I eat it no matter what it tastes like….but with spices most things are pretty tasty! It was suggested to me that carrots are a regular item that get lost in the veggie crispier, I reckon veggies are easily turned into delicious soup, here’s a great carrot soup recipe I use. Fruit can often go off pretty quickly, but luckily tastes just as delicious at that point in a smoothie, with a little cinnamon or honey it’s hard to go wrong, like in this recipe.

Finally it’s not often I say this, but go out and buy something….the little tool featured in this photo – kind of like a mini spatula – is amazing at getting everything out of jars!

Small Habit, Big Change – Turn old fruit and veggies into smoothies and soups.

The Power Of One’s Money

This is one of the ideas that I adhere to most closely, the one that I not only vote once every 3 years in an election, but every day – when I buy things. Every single item I buy has influence, because the transaction talks the only truly international language – money. Let’s consider just one item, a tin of tomatoes, and dissect what we might be voting for when we part with our $1.20.

–       Large supermarket vs small grocer, or somewhere in between

–       Global vegetable supplier vs independent producer

–       Local vs overseas grown and processed

–       Shipped vs trucked vs flown

–       Organic vs pesticides

–       Additives vs none

–       Fair workers rights vs poor working conditions

I’m sure there are more factors one might be voting on in this circumstance, I welcome any additions via the comments section! Of course, you can also vote to not have packaging because after all, a tin of chopped tomatoes is just that – chopped tomatoes, which is not that hard to do.

Some votes are simple choices to make, ie I would suggest that if the supply chain were transparent then most shoppers would favour humanely slaughtered meat over non-humane. Others can be more difficult – I spent a good deal of time recently trying to choose between an organic coffee vs fair trade coffee, the deadlock in my head being broken by my dad who was keen to leave the supermarket (thankfully because I might have gone a bit loopy).

So, it is virtually impossible to be in control of every aspect above, and often one needs to choose between one area and another. Being a vote, everyone can make their own choice too, ie I might choose organic overseas products over chemical local ones, but others would sit on the other side of the fence. The point is, just this single item in your basket influences many people, animals and places in many other parts of the world – and this voting occurs with every item of every transaction.

Every purchase can also have unintended consequences, if one buys entirely from a big chain supermarket one should not be surprised to see the walking-distance fruit store close down, or if one favours cheaper overseas products there should not be complaints when local jobs are lost.

What I try to do is picture the perfect world I would like to live in, and vote for the products that best follow that path.

Small Habit, Big Change – be conscious of the signal your money is sending everytime you shop. Try thinking about it when you’re travelling to work instead of at the shop shelves.

Back To Bread

The following applies to you unless you have specifically asked your baker questions about their flours. If your ‘baker’ is the supermarket, then this applies to every item containing flour on their shelves.

In manufacturing, time is money, which turns out to be not such a healthy process for food. While it is true that white bread is not as healthy as whole grain bread, most of white’s troubles began when we discovered how we could produce bread quicker than we were. Before that it didn’t really get eaten, because that would have been a waste of food.

A kernel of grain which becomes flour is made up of three parts – bran, germ, endosperm. The first two are the healthy bits, the last is the ‘white’ bit. The industrialised method of milling allows us to feed a greater many people than the old stone milling did – by reversing the old processes.

– Milling the ‘slow way’ grinds all three parts together in cold rollers (and sieves to get white flour).

– Milling the ‘fast way’ separates the healthy bits during grinding with hot rollers to end up with only the white bit (and adds the healthy bits back in later for whole grain).

A friendly, more detailed explanation can be found here, but the bottom line is ‘slow flour’ – white or whole grain – is healthier than ‘fast flour’, it’s not about white vs whole grain.

So, the vast majority of flour that goes into making bread is lacking nutrients – it doesn’t matter what you add to it later, it’s not as healthy if the grains haven’t been ground properly. Every item in the supermarket has ‘fast flour’ – even the ones that look healthier; without checking I’m going to suggest every item at chain bakers has it; even the most of the smaller bakers – because the price is less.

Can’t blame them for buying the cheaper product, but as we’re finding out – the lower the price the worse it is for your health. It will be a little hunt to find ‘slow flour’ and bakers, but it will be worth it, and we can eat all breads with a healthier conscience.

Humanity has fed itself with bread for thousands of years, only in the last 50 years has it become unhealthy.  Let’s get back to eating old school bread, it’s way more delicious too! Better still, try to bake your own as often as possible, but make sure you buy proper flour. It’s not that hard or time consuming to make your own, often I prepare the dough at dinner time, let it rise before bed, then leave it (sealed) in the fridge overnight ready for baking in the morning, perfect!

Small Habit, Big Change – Seek out stone ground millers and bakers, choose proper bread.